Woman in front of greenery

Greensburg professor honored with YWCA Racial Justice Award

Melissa Marks, an associate professor of Education at Pitt–Greensburg, was honored recently with the YWCA Westmoreland County’s 2021 Racial Justice Award because of her work in diversity education.

The Racial Justice Award has been given by the YWCA’s Racial Justice Committee since 1993 to an individual or group who demonstrates commitment to racial equity and inclusiveness.

Marks is the director of the Pitt–Greensburg’s Education Program and teaches a wide variety of courses, including strategies, diversity and social studies methods. Her books include “Teaching About Diversity: Activities to Start the Conversation” (2020) and “How to Talk to Families About Child and Adolescent Mental Illness” (co-authored with Diane Marsh, 2009).

Toren Finkel in a black suit

Toren Finkel receives Scholar-Innovator Award

Professor of Medicine Toren Finkel is one of eight physician-scientists awarded a 2021 Scholar-Innovator Award from the Harrington Discovery Institute. 

Finkel, who is also director of the Aging Institute of UPMC, researches mitochondrial function, cellular metabolism, oxidative stress and aging.

The Harrington Discovery Institute seeks to accelerate the development of new treatments to address major unmet needs in medicine and society. Harrington scholar-innovators are accomplished physician-scientists whose research demonstrates innovation, creativity and potential for clinical impact. 

In addition to grant funding, scholar-innovators receive guidance and oversight in all aspects of drug development.

Student writing on a paper

Study Lab wins award for website excellence

The University of Pittsburgh’s Study Lab won third place in the 2021 National College Learning Center Association/Learning Support Centers in Higher Education Website Excellence Awards. The award recognizes superior technology work.

The Study Lab provides in person and online tools and resources to students in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences to help them study smarter, not harder, and make the most of their time at Pitt. 

Winners will receive their award at the Forging Academic Success conference in Birmingham, Alabama, this fall.

Statue of a man with a harp

University Library System releases new journal issue on telehealth

If you visited a doctor by video chat during the pandemic, you had an experience with the field known as telehealth or telemedicine. Pitt’s University Library System (ULS) recently published a new edition of the International Journal of Telerehabilitation, which has open access articles about changes in the field during COVID-19, as well as telehealth in school settings. 

ULS has been publishing research and clinical practice articles in this field since the journal’s inception in 2008. 

Kingsley Laura in a blue shirt

Laura Kingsley wins Future of the Field Award

Laura Kingsley, senior associate director in the Office of Sponsored Programs, has been awarded the Future of the Field Award from the Society of Research Administrators International (SRAI).

Kingsley was also elected to the National Council of University Research Administrators Board of Directors in January 2021 for a two-year term.

“It is an incredible honor to be recognized by the Society of Research Administrators International and to serve on the Board of Directors for the National Council of University Research Administrators. I am proud to be a part of Pitt Research and highlight the research administration profession,” she said.

Kingsley was selected by a committee of her peers for the SRAI honor. Candidates were evaluated based on their career history, demonstration of exceptional professional growth and significant contributions made to the advancement of research administration. Awardees will be recognized at the SRAI annual meeting in October.

Chris Clifford

Clifford named associate vice president at Pitt-Bradford 

Chris Clifford, who has spent most of his career overseeing auxiliary services at colleges and universities, has been named associate vice president for business affairs and director of auxiliary services at Pitt–Bradford.

Clifford, who began his position June 16, is responsible for the overall administration and leadership of Pitt-Bradford’s auxiliary operations, including Dining Services, housing and auxiliary facilities, laundry and vending, the Panther Shop, Conference Services, and the Mail Center. He also will provide strategic planning and vision for financial, operational, marketing and facility development.   

Before arriving at Pitt-Bradford, Clifford served as vice president for budget and finance at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, a university similar in size to Pitt-Bradford, where he oversaw all of the university’s financial areas as well as dining and bookstore operations.

He also has experience working at large institutions. For eight years, Clifford served as the associate vice president in the Business and Auxiliary Services Division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he supported 21,000 students, 23,000 employees and the UAB Health System, one of the five largest academic medical centers in the United States. At UAB, Clifford oversaw multiple areas, including UAB’s Educational Foundation, real estate, bookstore, parking and transit, physical security, and the school’s 8,600-seat Barstow Arena.

Clifford also served in leadership roles at Ohio University, West Virginia University at Parkersburg, and Mississippi State University and worked for nine years for ExxonMobil, including a three-year assignment in Hong Kong.   

Clifford holds a master of business administration from Dartmouth College and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Mississippi State University.

Rory Cooper in a black suit

Rory Cooper receives Biomedical Engineering Award

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has honored Pitt’s Rory Cooper with its Biomedical Engineering Award for his “extensive contributions to wheelchair technology that have expanded mobility and reduced secondary injuries for millions of people with disabilities.”

Cooper, Pitt’s first-ever assistant vice chancellor for research for STEM-health sciences collaborations and founding director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, among many other titles, is also an elected fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and several other professional societies.

“This award is shared by my students (past and present), family, friends and colleagues within the Human Engineering Research Laboratories," Cooper said of the IEEE honor.

Andrea Hergenroeder in a black suit

Andrea Hergenroeder to direct Pitt Interprofessional Center for Health Careers

Andrea Hergenroeder, director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program and an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy in Pitt’s School of School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, has been appointed as the new director of the Pitt Interprofessional Center for Health Careers (PIC Health Careers), effective July 1.

She succeeds Susan M. Meyer, who steered the center as director since its launch in 2018 and announced earlier this year her intention to retire.

“Andrea’s 25 years of varied experience and expertise spanning work as a physical therapy clinician, manager and educator make her a superb fit as the new director of PIC Health Careers,” said Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd. 

Hergenroeder (EDUC ’09) came to Pitt in 2002 and is a board-certified clinical specialist in cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy. Her extensive background includes patient care, research and teaching leadership roles with the UPMC Centers for Rehab Services. She promotes the use of simulation, educational technology and experiential learning activities to support student learning and has frequently published and presented on these topics throughout her career.

She has been recognized with the Innovation in Teaching Award from the University of Pittsburgh, the APTA Academy of Acute Care Physical Therapy Educator Award and the SHRS Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award, among other honors.

Birdseye view of Oakland

Nuclear engineering researchers awarded $1.6M from the Department of Energy

Interdisciplinary researchers at the Swanson School of Engineering are recipients of $1.6 million in advanced nuclear energy research and development funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). 

The investment announced this week is part of more than $61 million in awards for 99 advanced nuclear energy technology projects nationwide, $58 million of which was awarded to U.S. universities. According to DOE, the projects focus on nuclear energy research, cross-discipline technology development and nuclear reactor infrastructure to bolster the resiliency and use of America’s largest domestic source of carbon-free energy.

“Pittsburgh is the global nexus of peacetime nuclear energy history and research, and we are proud to contribute to its continued success,” said Brian Gleeson, the Swanson School’s Harry S. Tack Professor and Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “Our faculty and students have a strong foundation in modeling and simulation, materials, sensing technologies and non-destructive evaluation of critical reactor components, and so we are thankful to the DOE for supporting our research.”

Read more about the Pitt projects funded.

Valerie Kinloch in a yellow shirt

Valerie Kinloch named trustee of undergraduate alma mater

Valerie Kinloch, dean of the School of Education, has been appointed to the board of trustees of her undergraduate alma mater, Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) in Charlotte, N.C.

Her two-year appointment began on July 1, and can be extended for successive three-year terms.

Kinloch earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with honors from JCSU.

"I am extremely honored and excited to have been appointed to the Board of Trustees of my undergraduate alma mater, Johnson C. Smith University," Kinloch said. "I owe so much of my professional achievements and personal growth to the impactful education and critical mentoring I received at JCSU. Undoubtedly, I will always treasure my time there. As a trustee, I look forward to supporting the future of our university, particularly as we continue to center on student learning, educational equity, innovation and collaboration.”

Read more about the honor.

Evan Facher in a dark suit and purple shirt

Pitt leaps eight spots in worldwide patent ranking

The University of Pittsburgh made a significant move up the list of the top recipients of U.S. utility patents among worldwide universities in 2020, according to the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

Pitt ranked No. 20 for the 2020 calendar year with 106 patents. In the previous year, the University ranked No. 28.

“Filing for and receiving patent protection for innovations is an important step in creating research of impact by Pitt researchers,” said Evan Facher (pictured), vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship and director of the Innovation Institute, which is responsible for managing and licensing intellectual property at the University. “We are pleased to see Pitt rise in this ranking, especially as it indicates that more Pitt innovators are getting involved in the commercial translation of their work.”

Read more at the Innovation Institute’s website.

Nikhil Bajaj in a dark suit

Engineering’s Nikhil Bajaj receives U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission grant

Assistant Professor Nikhil Bajaj has been awarded $450,000 from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a nationally recognized nuclear research program and grow the overall nuclear program at the University of Pittsburgh.

The grant will support Bajaj in establishing research in advanced sensors and artificial intelligence for reactor applications, specifically high temperature, high-reliability sensor designs using machine learning and advanced communication technology. 

Laura Schmid in a pink shirt

Laura Schmid named director of OHR's shared services

Effective July 12, Laura Schmid will serve as the director of shared services in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). In this role, she will oversee the development and execution of strategic plans within shared services and continue to evolve OHR’s operational performance to cultivate a culture of consistent process improvement and optimization.

Schmid is an experienced administrator with an extensive background in higher education. She specializes in a multitude of disciplines including project management, operational process analysis, efficiency improvement, organizational design and strategic planning. She most recently served as the director of personnel at the Graduate School of Public Health.

Mary Margaret Kerr

Mary Margaret Kerr receives Education Policy and Leadership Center Alumni Award

Mary Margaret Kerr, a professor in the School of Education, was recently named a winner of the Education Policy and Leadership Center’s (EPLC) 2020 Leadership Program Alumni Award.

The EPLC is a Pennsylvania nonprofit focused on developing and implementing state-level education policies designed to improve PreK-12 student learning, increase the effective operation of schools and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages. Among its various initiatives, it offers an annual education policy fellowship program for policy makers and education leaders.

“I was amazed to receive the alumni award,” said Kerr. “The other alums who have received awards are so well respected. This is an honor I can’t even describe.”

Kerr has devoted her career to promoting mental health, suicide prevention, school safety and compliance with laws protecting students with disabilities. Not only has she worked in policy in Pennsylvania, but she has worked across the nation, including a long court-appointed leadership role in the Los Angeles Unified School District in California.

Read more at the School of Education.

New machine learning methods could improve environmental predictions

Machine learning algorithms do a lot for us every day—send unwanted email to our spam folder, warn us if our car is about to back into something and give us recommendations on what TV show to watch next. Now, we are increasingly using these same algorithms make environmental predictions for us. 

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, University of Minnesota and U.S. Geological Survey recently published a new study on predicting flow and temperature in river networks in the 2021 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics International Conference on Data Mining proceedings. 

The research demonstrates a new machine learning method where the algorithm is taught the “rules” of the physical world in order to make better predictions and steer the algorithm towards physically meaningful relationships between inputs and outputs. 

The study presents a model that can make more accurate stream temperature predictions, even when we have little data available, which is the case in most streams. The model can also better generalize to different time periods.

“Water temperature in streams is a ‘master variable’ for many important aquatic systems, including the suitability of aquatic habitats, evaporation rates, greenhouse gas exchange and efficiency of thermoelectric energy production,” said Xiaowei Jia, a lead author of the study and assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Computer Science in the School of Computing and Information. “Accurate prediction of water temperature and streamflow also aids in decision making for resource managers, for example helping them to determine when and how much water to release from reservoirs to downstream rivers.”

Esch receives Pitt–Bradford Staff Recognition Award

Rick Esch, vice president for business affairs at Pitt–Bradford, was chosen by his fellow staff members to receive the Staff Recognition Award for his leadership in helping the campus navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.           

“We never would have gotten through this challenging time without Rick,” said Catherine Koverola, Pitt–Bradford’s president. “He is the bedrock of Pitt–Bradford and embodies servant leadership.”

Esch was nominated for the award by Kathy Moonan, manager of accounts payable who has worked with Esch for many years; James Baldwin, vice president for enrollment management; and Pat Frantz Cercone, executive director of communications and marketing.

“His leadership enhanced the safety and well-being of all concerned during a time when almost everything was uncertain,” Moonan wrote in her nomination.

For nearly 18 months, Esch, who oversees budget and financial reporting, auxiliary services and facilities management, has represented the Bradford and Titusville campuses on the Chancellor’s Resilience Steering Committee and has worked closely with Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office. He also has collaborated with local, regional and state agencies, including the McKean County and Crawford County Emergency Management agencies, UPMC and Bradford Regional Medical Center.

Esch also assembled and led a COVID-19 Mitigation Response Team, which included representatives from most offices at Bradford and Titusville. Under his leadership, the team successfully implemented many changes on campus, including testing asymptomatic students weekly; isolating and quarantining symptomatic students; adapting the physical plant, including the dining hall and classrooms, to enable physical distancing; purchasing masks, signage and other materials; and identifying vaccinations sites.

“It shouldn’t be forgotten,” Cercone added, “that Rick did all of this while still performing all of his other important duties.”

Esch, who is a 1983 Pitt–Bradford alumnus, started his career at his alma mater in 1994 as the director of auxiliary services. In 1999, he was named chief business and administrative affairs officer, and in 2003 was promoted to vice president for business affairs.

He holds a master of business administration from the Katz Graduate School of Business and a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from Pitt–Bradford. 

The annual Staff Recognition Award honors employees whose performance consistently exceeds the standards and expectations set for their position at the university or whose work in the community surpasses the expectations of the organizations for whom they serve and whose commitment and effort have made a significant impact on the community.

Stevanovic receives Fulbright Specialist Program award

Aleksandar Stevanovic, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, has received a Fulbright Specialist Program award from the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Stevanovic will complete a project at the University of Kragujevac in Serbia that aims to exchange knowledge and establish partnerships through a variety of educational and training activities within civil engineering and urban planning.

He is one of more than 400 U.S. citizens who are selected for the Fulbright Specialist Program each year, based on academic and professional achievement, demonstrated leadership in their field, and their potential to foster long-term cooperation between institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

Stevanovic is also principal investigator of the Swanson School's Pittsburgh Intelligent Transportation Systems Lab, which investigates transportation problems and develops solutions to preserve a city's livability.

"This Fulbright project will help us to assess what can be done to help cities and countries with low level of penetration of Intelligent Transportation Systems to reduce fossil fuel consumption, carbon footprint, and harmful emissions caused by traffic in congested urban networks," Stevanovic said. "While many solutions can be found in multimodal policies and operations, with this project we intend to optimize traffic signal control with outdated technology through a comprehensive and careful analysis of urban traffic flows, to achieve benefits without significant infrastructural investments."

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by Congress to the State Department.


Cathedral of Learning with pink flowers

Two win 2021 Orosz Award for excellence in emerging leadership

Kayla Banner from the Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (OUR). and Jasmine Dixson. from the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics. are this year’s Orosz awardees.

The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Orosz Award was established to honor Michael Orosz, a staff member in the Department of Biological Sciences who passed away unexpectedly in 2003. It recognizes staff members in the early stages of their careers who have exhibited excellence in their performance and displayed leadership qualities among their peers. To be nominated, staff must have worked for the University at least one year but not more than five years. Staff nominees must also have worked in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences/College of General Studies for at least one full year.

Banner serves as the BRIDGES program manager and outreach coordinator in OUR, providing mentorship and academic and social support to traditionally underrepresented students in the Dietrich School. She also leads a team of 20 peer mentors who provide support to program participants, impacting nearly 1,000 students in the school. Additionally, Banner is an instructor for OUR’s First Approaches to Research and the Summer Undergraduate Research Awards courses.

Dixson serves as the academic coordinator in the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics. Her nominators shared the numerous and innovative ways that she has made an impact on their lives and the lives of students, from developing databases to creating virtual graduation ceremonies, from sorting through datasets to extract detailed information to reducing red tape in departmental processes.

Panther Statue

Wagner and Woo inducted to International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering

Two Pitt faculty members were elected fellows of the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering (IAMBE). William R. Wagner and Savio L-Y. Woo were selected for this competitive election alongside 24 other internationally recognized leaders in the field. To date, there are fewer than 250 fellows of the academy throughout the world.

Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering, was selected for “pioneering contributions to regenerative medicine and for integrating engineering expertise within the clinical environment, and championing innovation investment at the state and national level.” 

Woo, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Bioengineering, was selected for “pivotal contributions and leadership in biomechanics and bioengineering, leading to revolutionary treatments and rehabilitation strategies for improved patient care for ligament and tendon injuries worldwide.”

Read more at the Swanson School of Engineering website.

Robert Schoen in a black suit

Pitt expert details history of refugee physicians in the U.S.

Robert Schoen, chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in conjunction with prominent Holocaust scholar Laurel Leff, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University, has published an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine recounting the history and oppression of Jewish physicians seeking refuge in the United States during WWII.

Barred from practicing medicine in their home countries by the Nazi regime and hoping to find new opportunities, nearly 5,500 Jewish physicians successfully emigrated from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and other European nations to the U.S.

Many refugees were met with anti-Semitism and restricted from practicing medicine through regulations that prevented them from taking state licensing examinations. Professional medical organizations urged state medical boards to require full citizenship before foreign medical school graduates could take a licensing exam—amounting to, at minimum, a five-year hiatus in employment as the refugees waited for citizenship. Schoen and Leff tell the story of David L. Edsall, a former dean of Harvard Medical School, and his efforts to lobby on behalf of these physicians.